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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Attachment or Attunement?

Recently, Dr Alexander quoted on our fiesta Face Book page...‎"Sometimes the question is not so much of attachment, but attunement: the capacity of the parent to be emotionally in tune with the child. Many children are well attached to their parents, but the latter are too stressed or too distracted to be attuned to their kids ...." Gabor Mate, from 'What Ails Us,' The Sun, August 2012. It really rang true to me. In browsing some of my online adoption groups over the summer, I noticed several people asking, “How do I know when my child becomes attached?” or “How long does it take for a child to attach?” as if it is a one-time event. Little Sammy goes to bed on Tuesday unattached and wakes up on Wednesday securely attached. I don’t know. I see attachment as a spectrum or an on-going process over a lonnngg period of time- something that needs to be planted and watered, tended and nurtured until my child is grown and beyond. And what happens when you finally decide (or your therapist tells you) that your child has “attached?” Does that mean that you can slowly back away into your meaningful adult activities and check on your child occasionally, while she is playing video games in the other room?

I decided that I love the term, “attunement.” instead. (Quite honestly, I’ve lived in the world of adoption long enough to become quite tired of “attachment” talk.) Attunement means that I pay attention to my child’s behavior and act accordingly. This summer, one of my daughters has asked several times to have alone time with me. It’s what she needs and she been able to ask for it clearly. But when a few days or a week go by without my schedule allowing it, her behavior warns me that there will be trouble if I do not attune myself to her. Attunement means that I do not just listen to the spoken requests, or the hints of bad behavior, but even the nuances of eye contact and inflections. It requires me to be fully aware and present with each of my children to read between the lines and adjust my schedule, my tone, my expectations and my reactions to dance with my child.